Proposition 8: A warning to hospitals

Sadly, it seems that unless the Supreme Court kills California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 dead, and that creates a domino effect nationally, hospitals will be slow to treat gay and lesbian families with dignity and provide similar levels of support.  

As far too many sad incidents illustrate, hospitals have treated gay couples as though their relationship gave them no rights — even when they’d signed a stack of legal papers which should have closed the matter.

One recent example is the case of Janice Langbehn, who was barred from seeing her dying partner Lisa Pond because the two weren’t married.  According to Langbehn, who sued Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital over the incident, the staff refused to even take a medical history on Pond from her, despite the fact that Pond was unconscious. 

The incident, which happened in February 2007, drew national attention. But it still took Jackson until April of this year to institute an official policy naming same-sex partners as “family” for vistation purposes.

Now, Jackson Memorial may be an outlier —  other hospitals have already clarified their policies to offer equal protection and access to all families — but it’s also a county facility.  Apparently, governmentally-sanctioned discrimination was just fine with the city fathers and mothers until just this year.

That kind of foot-dragging has to stop. Regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, there’s a lot of momentum behind the movement, and it’s not likely to go away.  So even if you’re unmoved by appeals to fairness or the suffering of gay spouses, try legal reality on for size. 

Hey, hospitals are terrified of blowing HIPAA rules, and only a couple hundred violations have been cited since its inception. (Criminal convictions? Counted easily on your fingers.)  Don’t you think gays and lesbians are going to see to it that you get some very serious heat if  you treat them like second-class citizens?  That’s a more serious threat than a possible Britney Spears leak.

Hospital leaders, it’s time to begin training your staff that discriminatory treatment of gays and lesbians won’t be tolerated, any more than they’d be permitted to kick Latino dads out of their wives’ rooms or refuse to take medical histories from Asians.  Their politics, feelings and preferences are fine, but they have to stay at home (or go elsewhere with them to a different institution).  This is going to be a really tough one, sadly, so be prepared for some blowback. But go ahead anyway.

P.S.  For a little treat, I give you “Summer of Loving,” a sweet and memorable tune comparing the battle over Proposition 8 to Loving v Virginia, the case in which the Supremes struck down laws against interracial marriage.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.